I am starting to write this shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and in the early days of the reign of King Charles III of the United Kingdom. A lot has been written about the Queen in recent days. Her faithfulness, her sense of duty, the service that she did for the country, her humour, her love of horse racing. Basically, here in the UK, in the days around her death, it was impossible to avoid it. The general consensus is that she has been a very good ruler and servant of the people. Quite how good we will have to let history decide. It is notable that the prestige and wealth of Britain has slipped during her lifetime, and there have been many made bad decisions made during her rule, particular with regards to social policy. But that process had started before she came to the throne, and was perhaps inevitable. We cannot know how much worse things would have been without the Queen's influence. So I am not going to write about that.
Instead, in a departure from my usual service, I want to ask a different question. It has often been said that Monarchy is an anachronism in the twenty first century. The UK only has it by historical accident, and if we were to come up with a system of government, nobody in their right mind would choose what we have today. Even the supporters of the UK system seem to be saying "Nobody would have come up with this, but it seems to work." What I want to do is to attempt to justify why the UK system of government, and others like it in the surviving monarchies of Europe, are a rational way of doing things.
Note that I am not here to claim that the UK system of government is perfect. It isn't. Nor am I writing to claim that it is the best possible exemplar of a constitutional monarchy. It isn't. There is room for improvement and refinement. But that's true for every country and in every system. I will use the UK system in my examples, as that is what I am most familiar with. It is the principle of constitutional monarchy which I want to defend. There are better and worse ways of implementing that principle. The UK is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum -- not the worst, but not the best either. But I want to argue that what we have is better than what we would get with a full republican system.
Of course, I am not an expert on political on economic theory, so my musings carry no weight whatsoever. I just want to write down my own thoughts on the matter. Don't take any of this as authoritative.
As King of England, Charles can trace his lineage back to the Kings of Wessex in the 8th century BC. As King of Scotland, he can trace his lineage back to the Kings of Dal Riata in the 9th. The two lines merged with James VI of Scotland at the start of the seventeenth century. Aside from a brief break in the seventeenth century, the Monarchies of England and Scotland have gradually evolved into what we see today.
I am not going to advocate for an absolute monarchy, where the King or Queen can do whatever they like. We all know, from numerous examples, that that is a very bad form of government. It is great under a good King, but those are few and far between. The classic examples of this are the Kings of Israel and Judah as depicted in the Old Testament. The Kings were a good mixture -- some pious and good rulers, some national saviours, others bloodthirsty tyrants, others incompetents who ran down the country. But the warning given by the prophet Samuel at the establishment of the monarchy is applicable well past his own time.
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
The Israelites at the time were living in what today we might call an anarchist society, where "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Of course, they were, in principle at least, subject to the law of Moses and had religious obligations to the priesthood based in Shiloh. But in practice, they were too disorganised in the face of their aggressive neighbours. Hastily arranged militias were not doing the job of defending their homes. They perceived that they needed a standing backbone of an army, for which they needed someone to lead that army, for which they needed a government. But the warning was given: if you give that much power to an individual, they are going to abuse it, and take what you own and even yourself into their service. And such has been the way throughout history, not only with monarchies, but with every form of government. Governments are a necessity, but present a great danger to the freedom of their subjects. That danger might remain in the background when you have a competent and benevolent ruler, but neither competence nor benevolence are guaranteed in any form of government, and certainly not in an absolute monarchy.
What I want to discuss is a monarchy whose powers are limited by a democratically elected parliament, and a parliament whose powers are limited by being under a monarch.
The UK system evolved over the years through a process of gradual change. In Saxon times, the King ruled with the consent of a council, the Witenagemot. After the Norman conquest, the system changed, with the Saxon lords replaced with Norman Barons. There was period of absolute monarchy lasting about 150 years. Then the Barons rebelled, and forced the King to sign a charter, which limited his powers. This wasn't democracy: it was mainly the Barons and senior clergy which gained, although there were a few limitations on how the King could treat the common people, most importantly the right to a trial by an independent authority. From this time, the King's authority, in particular his right to raise taxes, was subject to parliament. So if the King wanted to raise taxes, or introduce new laws, then he had to summon a parliament and present his case. This first of all consisted of the leading Nobles and Bishops of the country, but by the end of the 13th century it also regularly included representation from the "commons." At that time, these were generally were either Knights or town officials, who had the responsibility of representing their local people. They were elected by a small group of local landowners and gentry. Any grievances could be raised with the representatives, which would then be presented to the King through parliament. A similar system developed in Scotland. In time, new laws had to be first raised in parliament, and approved by both houses of parliament and the King.
Then, in the seventeenth century, the relationship between parliament and the King changed. This was partly due to the civil war between Charles I and parliament, which parliament won, and executed the King. After the restoration (the brief period of republic did not fare well), the monarchy was restored, but with parliament having greater say. In 1689, the parliament again rebelled against the King, and put William of Orange on the throne (technically, they invited him to have an unopposed invasion of England). In the eighteenth century, the parliaments of England and Scotland merged, and the First Lord of the Treasury, a parliamentary office appointed by the monarch, became the head of the government, known informally as prime minister. Further reform, particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, increased the electors of the house of commons (to the point where it is almost all adult citizens of the United Kingdom). And that is more or less where things stand today.
Each member of the House of Commons is elected by the people within a certain area, a constituency. The constituencies are drawn up by an independent commission, and try to ensure that they cover a geographically connected area with roughly the same number of people in each constituency. In principle, the primary responsibility of the members of the House of Commons is to represent the needs of those people in their constituency to government, and assess whether new laws are in the interest of the people they represent. In practice, it doesn't always work out that way.
So we have a democratically elected house of commons. Normally, members of the House of Commons raise new legislation, and have the first attempts at redrafting it. The House of Lords exists to revise and refine the legislation. The government has the responsibility of executing that legislation, and is led by the First Lord of the Treasury, who appoints ministers to be the head of each department from the Houses of Commons and Lords. We have an independent judiciary (aside from the most senior judges in the house of Lords). And above all this is the monarch as head of state, who assents to laws, summons parliament, appoints the prime minister, and who everyone else (including the judiciary and military) swears allegiance to. The monarch has a great deal of political power in principle, but in practice almost all of it is delegated to various other bodies, most notably parliament.
Is the UK system of government perfect? I will happily admit that the house of Lords is a bit of a mess. It used to be a mixture of hereditary nobles and people who enter it on account of a position, such as the Bishops of the Church. Others, now by far the majority of its members, are appointed to the house of Lords on the advice of the prime minister. The house of Lords has far too many people in it, and the means of selecting those people is questionable. This is, I think, generally admitted; but it continues because nobody can agree what to do with it. The last attempt at reform was under Tony Blair, who just made things worse. But that's not the issue I want to address here.
The question is whether the role of the monarch is an anachronism.
I think it is generally agreed today, except among those with a vested interest otherwise or not free to decide, that representative democracy is the least bad unitary system of government (by unitary I mean if we do not mix different forms of government, as in a constitutional monarchy). I will take this as one of my assumptions. I will make a second assumption, which is perhaps a little less agreed, but to my mind clear enough, that the democratic system of government has its flaws. But those flaws are outweighed by its clear advantage: the ability of the people to remove a bad government, and a series of laws and customs which the government is subject to making it hard for the politicians to remove this ability before the government can be overthrown. The advantage of democracy is that it advocates a dispersal of political power, limiting the damage that a bad actor can do. In principle, that power is dispersed to every eligible elector in the country, which is almost all adults. Great Kingdoms and Empires have been brought down by when a single bad ruler has stayed in power for too long. In a democracy that ought not be the case. As soon as they start threatening to abuse their power, they are voted out in favour of a superior rival.
The nature of representative democracy, and its flaws
Democracy literally means government of the people. The first democracies were in ancient Greece, where every male citizen of the city of a sufficient age was entitled to vote in the assembly and the courts to determine legislation. There were various standing committees which handled the day to day running of the city. This system of direct democracy continued until it was suppressed by the Macedonians. It was moderately successful, but had its critics. Notably Plato warned that a democracy would inevitably collapse into a tyranny.
In any society, there is an inequality of ability, in numerous different fields. In particular, Plato distinguished between reason and appetite. Reason is what allows us to consider forms and purposes in the abstract; appetite is the desire for physical pleasures, such as money, power, sexual satisfaction, and so on. Some people are able to constrain their appetites, and their actions are motivated by reason. The rational seek the objective good, which would correspond with what is good for society. Others are driven by their appetites, and use whatever possible to achieve them. These seek a subjective good, namely their own pleasure, which often works against the good of society as a whole. Many people, for example, will be motivated by greed for money. A few will be good at obtaining it. This makes the less able envious. In a democracy, as Plato understands it, everybody is able to do as they desire. Since the less able people and less virtuous people are always in the majority, in a direct democracy their rule prevails. Those governed by reason are equally in the minority.
This envy leads to the desire to spread the fruits of that success more widely, which has the effect of cutting down the most capable people in society. But the bulk of the society does not benefit so greatly from this. All you are doing is diverting resources from those who know how to use it to generate wealth to those who don't know how to generate wealth. The people put in power in their place are those who flatter the baser appetites of the masses. This harms the society as a whole. The society becomes poorer, and it also ferments resentment and division. Consumption of unearned wealth corrupts the character. In particular, people are tempted to fulfil their appetite towards sexual licentious. This breaks down the natural family, which is where people learn the duties and virtue. The net result of all this is a society rent by a desire for egalitarianism but not the reality, subjective and conflicting moral purposes, resentment, division, increased crime, increased poverty, and an increased gap between the wealthy and the rest of society. Once this social chaos becomes evident to the mass of the people, they will turn to anyone who claims to be able to solve it. That someone, once in power, will victimise his opponents as the ones who caused the problem (regardless of whether or not they did), disenfranchise them, and thereby gain more dictatorial power for himself. As such, Plato argued, this sort of democracy collapses into tyranny.
Obviously an absolute democracy is impractical for a modern nation. There are simply too many people who need to have a say. You can have a referendum, but these are slow and expensive, and most countries reserve them for important constitutional issues, but not the day to day running of the government. So the alternative is representative democracy, where the people elect somebody to represent them in parliament. How this is done varies from one country in the other. Here in the UK we use a first past the post system, where each constituency of about 70 000 people elects somebody to represent them. Other countries use a proportional representation system, where one votes for parties rather than individuals at a national or regional level. Other countries use a mixture of the two systems, and there are alternative versions of both of them. There are advantages and disadvantages to each system. A constituency based system (in principle at least) has the advantage that it allows for more local control over the representative. The representative can thus stand up for local issues. Equally, it (in principle at least) reduces the influence of the central parties. You can elect independents. The local constituency branch, and representative, can act against the wishes of the central office, knowing that they are ultimately accountable to the constituents and not the national party leaders. In practice, the central office still has too much power, but it is not built into the system in the way that it is in a proportional system. The disadvantage of a constituency system is that many people are effectively disenfranchised. If you are a conservative supporter in a labour dominated area, then your vote will never change the election. If you support one of the minor parties, then a vote for them is effectively wasted, so you have a choice between voting for them anyway to make a statement, or voting for the least bad of the major parties so the really bad people don't get in.
Representative democracy, particular the constituency based system, reduces some of the dangers of an absolute democracy by putting in this filter between the masses and the government. However, it does put more power in the hands of an elite, namely the central party authorities. Political parties are necessary for the stability of the system, but they also have the effect of centralising some aspects of political power into the hands of a small number of people. Those people then naturally seek the interests of themselves and their friends, and have little idea about how their decisions affect the rest of the country. It thus sits somewhere between an absolute democracy and an oligarchy.
Of course, democracy is about more than just how a government is chosen. You cannot have rule of the people unless the people can rule themselves. The people cannot make a free choice about who to represent them if they cannot make free choices. It is thus essential that certain freedoms are maintained. These include freedom of speech; the freedom to own and maintain private property as necessary for one's life and business; the freedom to live without the threat of violence; freedom of association; freedom to trade with other private individuals with limited external constraints; a free and in its totality an unbiased press so the people remain informed. This does not mean that the journalists need to be unbiased -- that is impossible -- but they should make their bias clear and there should be a range of different views. Equally it is important that the people are well educated, and in particular not indoctrinated, but made aware that there are always arguments on every side and taught how to evaluate those arguments.
To maintain these freedoms, the government itself needs to be subject to law. Otherwise it will just be able to override them on a whim. This means that the government has to be limited in what it can lawfully do and legislate.
The place to start thinking about these things is to ask what makes a good government, and consequently what makes a bad government. We can then ask what might lead a government to become bad, and what structures do best to mitigate those risks. Since goodness means being fit for purpose, the start of the discussion must be on asking what the purpose of government is.
So why is a government necessary? The purpose of government in a just society is to serve its citizens. It is not to rule over them for the sake of the people in government. After all, the people of government are just people. They do not have any special rights, superiority, privileges or entitlements over the rest of society. They are entitled to a fair wage for their work, (although what that is in the absence of a free market is difficult to determine), but not to abuse their authority for their own needs. The function of government is the same as the function of any other company in society: to provide goods and services to those that want them and who are willing to pay for them. In the case of government, the customers are everyone in society. The people paying taxes are those purchasing those services, and thus the services should be provided which satisfy the needs of the tax-payers, current, present and past.
Government provides the various things that the operations of a society of free individuals presuppose (and thus cannot be provided by private means). It is a neutral arbiter in disputes over contracts, and is able to enforce private contracts. It provides the infrastructure needed to conduct private business -- currency infrastructure, transportation, the physical infrastructure of the market. It regulates against monopolies and cartels, and possible abuse of the citizens by private corporations. It provides those services which are necessary to life and ought not be subject to the ability to pay -- quite what these services are is a matter of political debate, but everyone agrees that there are some. It protects against crime, through the police and courts. It generates such regulation as is necessary to ensure equal opportunity and that people involved in trade are properly informed about what they are buying, and that the products and workplace are safe. It interacts with foreign governments on behalf of its citizens, and funds a military to protect against external (and, as a last resort, internal) threats. Others might add more to this list. But, most of all, the governments are responsible for maintaining, enforcing, updating and sustaining the law.
So if a good government is one which serves the people, to encourage them in virtue, provide the infrastructure needed for them to create wealth for themselves and others, and to trade, and to protect them from enemies, then a bad government is one that fails in these purposes. In particular, one form of bad government is one which does not seek to serve but to rule: to use the resources of the people it governs for the benefit of the people in government, or a particular subset of the population favoured by government. This is the type of bad government with which I am most concerned here. Other governments can be bad by having the right goals, but carries them out inefficiently and wastefully.
How might this be brought about? It happens when too much power is invested in particular people, who have the ability to abuse that power. So to prevent the government that seeks to rule rather than serve, we need to prevent any single group of people gaining sufficient power to be able to abuse their positions.
So here we have a problem. The government in a democracy is both subject to the law and responsible for updating and enforcing it. This presents an avenue for a democratically elected government to override the rules it ought to be obeying, and establish itself as a dictatorship. This has happened on a few occasions. More commonly, it opens up the possibility of corruption. After all, a government is made up of people, and there will always be people open up to a bribe. If those people are in practice not accountable to anyone, then the way is open for them to take it. In principle, in a democracy, everything else is held accountable by the government which is accountable to the people. In practice, anti-corruption tends not to be the main reason why people vote for a particular candidate, and when it is that candidate will not necessarily live up to their promises.
Of course, democracies tend to be less corrupt than other forms of government. The leaders do have motivation to serve their people, because if they make a complete mess of things they might not be elected next time. So they are less sensitive to the problems that beset other forms of government, but they are not immune to them. But this is the main advantage of democracies over other systems of government. There is the capacity to remove really bad rulers from power before they have the chance to enact any permanent damage. To remove the people's freedom in a democracy requires a lot of work over a long period of time. But it is still possible.
It is well known that power corrupts, or corrupt people are drawn to power. This means that putting too much power in the hands of one person or a small group of people is always a bad idea. Sure, if that person is good, then things will work well. But eventually people will come to power who will use their position for their own gain at the cost to their subjects. This leads to the notion of the separation of powers. The idea is to have the government split into several different branches, with no large-scale change possible without the assent of all these branches. So if you are going to establish a dictatorship, you need to gain control of all the individual branches of government, which is harder than just gaining control of a single branch of government. For this to work, the different branches of government need to be independent of each other. There is no point in separating the powers if by gaining control of one branch, you gain control of them all.
The advantages of a democracy are thus that, more than any other system of government, a) it, by its structure, acknowledges that the rulers are not superior to the ruled; b) it preserves the natural freedoms and liberties of the people; c) it allows poor or corrupt governments to be easily removed; and d) it makes it hard for people to stay in power for too long. It is not perfect at any of this. Democracies can be undermined, and have been. Just because you vote for a leader does not mean that leader will not be corrupt, or that they will be strong enough to prevent "long marches through the institutions" by anti-demos ideologies. Nor is a democracy (coupled with a properly functioning free market) guaranteed to eliminate absolute poverty, but it will come closer than other governmental and economic systems.
So what are the weaknesses of democracy?
Firstly, it is subject to short-term thinking. Politicians frequently have the habit of only thinking ahead to the next election. If there is a policy which has short-term but affordable pain now, but whose benefits (which might be required to prevent an unaffordable pain) will not be realised until decades later, then politicians are incentivised to not do it. Their party gets all the pain; their opponents will get the benefits. For example, part of the reason (but only part) that the UK's energy system is in such a mess is that successive governments have been reluctant to put in the long term investment needed to secure it, because they would rather spend the resources on those policies which they think will score an immediate political gain.
Secondly, the party political system tends to centralise into a small number of parties. This is less bad in a proportional representation system, but that has the disadvantage of leading to unstable coalitions which nobody voted for. These parties themselves have a tendency to centralise power to just a few people. So ultimately, there are just a few hundred people in one party, and a few hundred people in the other party, who call all the shots. (The US primary system helps here: it gives the opportunity for political outsiders such as Donald Trump to force their way in and break up the duopoly. But, even then, the outsider need not necessarily be the most competent person, or have a suitable character for government.) All these people will have a similar background, usually privileged and university educated, a similar ideology, and an incentive to keep people outside their group out. They are distanced from the people they are meant to be serving, and don't really understand their needs. The possibility for group-think is obvious. This is a flaw of non-democratic systems of government; but democracies are still subject to it. The difference is that you have three competing set of group-think inspired committees (the two main parties and the civil service) instead of just one.
Thirdly, running an election campaign requires a lot of money. Political parties are dependent on wealthy donors, either private or corporate. Those donors will expect something in return for their investment. This destroys political neutrality. Government ought to be protecting the poor from the wealthy; but that is hard if the politicians depend on those same wealthy people for their re-election.
Fourthly, politicians are swayed by the latest societal fads or sophistry from academia. This fad doesn't necessarily need to be popular among the bulk of the population. It just needs to be something the politician thinks will be popular. There is an obvious temptation to go with the flow rather than to actually think deeply about something, and try to understand the cons and objections to a movement. Politicians also have the habit of focusing too much on one issue, and forgetting about the wider and long term consequences of that action.
And frequently, the politicians are incapable of evaluating what they are told by their "expert" advisers. This is the fifth point. The skills needed to become a politician are not the same as the skills needed to run a government department. To run a government, you need management skills. You also need the ability to understand and evaluate complex arguments. You need a decent understanding in whatever area it is where you are formulating legislation. You need a certain humility and pragmatism, and the ability to accept that you might be wrong, or this might not be the time to implement your favoured policy. However, to be selected as a candidate, and then elected, and then positioned in government you just need to be good at self promotion. You don't need to be of a good character, or competent, or trustworthy, to become elected into power. In fact, it helps if you aren't, because being loyal and trustworthy will not get you ahead of the people who would stab you in the back the moment it became advantageous for them. It is also best to be a generalist rather than a specialist in one particular area, so you are not faced with a question you can't give a plausible answer to. This, of course, means that when you get into power, you won't be qualified to understand or criticise the technical details relevant to whatever policy you are trying to implement. You have to rely on "experts," but then you don't even know enough to understand which "experts" in a particular area you should be listening to. All you need is the ability to persuade enough people that the other guy is even worse than you. And, of course, you are going to be slandered and criticised if you go into politics. Many competent people look at that, and decide they would rather not go through that stress. As such, the pool of potential candidates is diminished -- you are just left with those who want power, but few of the people who might be trusted to wield it.
For example, very few members of parliament in the UK, and I think elsewhere in Europe, have a background in the sciences. I am not saying that every politician should be a scientist -- far from it. But many issues need a certain degree of background scientific knowledge to evaluate. The scientific approach, being sceptical of expert opinion, developing models but testing everything experimentally, and being open to change your mind if the evidence does not line up with your expectations, is a crucial means of evaluating conflicting data. It is not the only means, and not always the right one, but it sometimes it would be the best approach for a politician to take. The recent reaction to COVID-19 is a classic example. Prime ministers and presidents across the world were scientifically illiterate. So when their scientific advisers showed them various model predictions, and said "You must do this or it will be the end of the world," they jumped up and did it. Possibly someone with scientific training would have done the same. But I would hope that someone with scientific training, albeit in a different field, would have questioned the models, asked how well they had done previously in making predictions, asked about the model uncertainties, looked around for other experts in the area who had a different opinion and asked for their objections, brought in economists (including those outside the economic mainstream) to learn of the long term costs of lockdown (e.g. the inflation and economic collapse we are now experiencing), and evaluate whether the policy was worth those costs. They might have questioned whether their expert advisers had any vested interest in the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe that scientist would have at the end instituted the same policies as the non-scientist. I don't know; I don't have all the facts. But I would rather trust somebody who had been trained in the details of the scientific approach to ask the right questions of their advisers than somebody trained in classics.
Sixthly, there is a great deal of electoral inertia. People vote for the labour party because they have always voted for the labour party and so did their parents. And they would continue to vote for the labour party even if they put up Stalin, Hitler, or Jeremy Corbyn as their candidate. The main advantage of a democracy, its ability to avoid really bad leaders, is thus undermined by tribal affiliation and voting.
Seventhly, political discourse often tends to be very superficial, at least when communicating with the electorate. It is much easier to call people names than debate the real merits of a policy. It is much easier to assume that your political opponents are evil, than to ask why they believe what they do. And all politicians do this. You would hope that there is some substance behind the slogans, but there is no easy way for an ordinary voter such as myself to judge. And it seems that those people who do understand the complexities would be less convincing in the presentation of their position, and thus less likely to be selected as a candidate. No issue can be reduced to just a simple slogan or philosophy; there are always exceptions and nuances. The problem is that the stronger politicians are those with convictions. "Increase wages for the rail workers" sounds good. "Keep rail fares low." sounds good. "Yes, we support the general principle that rail workers should have a reasonable wage, and are aware of the difficulties they are facing, but we also have to consider the wider costs to society in terms of higher fares or reduced investment in replacing outdated infrastructure, particularly on poorer workers who rely on the trains. We have to take a balanced position. So we should raise their salaries, but not to the extent that they outstrip what the wider society can afford. For more details please consult this 6000 page study that looks at all the different pros and cons, and outlines the details of how I intend to resolve the problem." This is a more reasonable view, addressing both the pros and cons of a particular position, but anyone listening to you will fall asleep before they can reach the ballot box.
The real problem comes when the politicians, on either side, can only think in terms of slogans. Or they start to believe that the slogans are an argument. And I, as a voter, have limited means to evaluate the detailed beliefs and plans behind their slogans, if there are any. I cannot distinguish between those politicians who have done the detailed homework, got it right, and reduced their position to a slogan, and those who have the slogan and nothing else.
My pet peeve at the moment is the phrase "trickle down economics," and the claim that it has never worked. Reducing the tax burden on the wealthy just makes the rich richer and increases economic inequality. It does not significantly raise GDP. But that's not the point. The point of supply side economic stimulation is not to have money flow from the rich to the poor. Wealth is not a zero sum game. It is not the same thing as money. Wealth refers to things -- goods and services which people desire. The value of something is just how much somebody is prepared to pay for it, so dependent on how strongly it is desired in comparison to the other things that money could be spent on. Wealth can be created -- when we build new things, or harvest new crops -- and also destroyed -- when our machines break down, or we eat our lunch. The value of labour is also just what somebody is prepared to pay for it. If you produce more wealth than you consume, then you will grow richer. If you consume more wealth than you produce, then you will grow poorer. The purpose of supply-side economic reforms is to stimulate wealth production in the economy, by reducing as much as possible the costs of businesses. It will thus lead to a greater supply of goods at a lower price, and make them more affordable and more available for everyone. People at the bottom won't necessarily have more money, but they will be able to do more with the money they do have. Ultimately this will benefit everyone, as long as all wealth-producing sectors of the economy equally grow. The standard worker will either get paid more in response to the greater value he gives due to his contribution to the greater production, or the price of goods will fall as more of them come onto the market. The proposal is not about wealth trickling down; it is about getting the infrastructure in place so that everyone, including the poor, can create more wealth for themselves and thus become wealthier. This will reduce absolute poverty (even if it makes relative poverty a little worse). The complaints I have seen about "trickle down economics" invariably mis-characterise the theory and goals of supply side economics. They say it doesn't improve wealth inequality (it is not designed to -- it is designed to help the poorest get easier access to what they need), or that it does not increase GDP (which, as it depends on the price of commodities, is a poor measure of wealth which is measured by the quantity of goods, but not their price).
I am not saying that supply side economics is the way forward in every circumstance. I'm not saying that cutting taxes is the best way of stimulating economic growth. I would certainly rather that government tackled its own inefficiencies and waste first and then cut taxes as it can afford to; and I would rather either focus those tax cuts on those who need the money more, or help the poorest in society in other ways. But what I do object to is that you never hear this explained by the politicians, even those who support such policies -- at least not as their comments are filtered through the media. How are the people supposed to correctly judge the policies if they don't understand the details, both in favour of the policy and against it?
Another example: everyone agrees that the NHS (National Health Service) here in the UK is in trouble. There is a great deal of support for the underlying principles behind it (and the service is in itself, while not the best in the developed world, is far from being the worst), but the practice is falling short of the ideal. This is partly due to the strains of COVID, but that has just made a long term structural issue worse. The symptoms are that a) It is near impossible to get an appointment to see a doctor in good time. Once you do see the doctor, the service is (usually) very good. But getting into the system is difficult. b) The doctors and nurses themselves are seriously overworked and stressed. There are other problems as well -- too few hospital beds, the link with the social services aftercare is broken and care homes are understaffed, and so on. In the meantime, the health service absorbs more and more of public funds, without any obvious improvement in its services. There are thus two possible causes for the main problem. 1) The doctors are spending their time inefficiently, for example doing paperwork which could be done by secretaries, or not done at all, rather than attending to patients; 2) there are too few doctors and nurses. That's my own analysis of the problem, based on limited knowledge. In short, the NHS is suffering from all the failings you expect of a socialist system -- inefficient allocation of resources leading to levels of production unable to meet the required demand. So what do we hear from the politicians? "The NHS is underfunded and needs more money," without any indication of whether that money will be spent wisely (from past experience, I would judge that it won't be). "We will recruit 20,000 new doctors" without any indication of how you will do that, where those doctors come from, or how you retain them. Some structural reform is needed, but as soon as someone suggests it, they are accused of wanting to privatise the system and convert it into a US-style disaster. Nobody wants that -- the US health system is by far the most expensive in the world and has by far the worst outcomes among the wealthier countries, and everyone (outside the US) knows it -- but the accusation alone is enough to spur a party to electoral defeat.
I don't know the answer to the problems that face our health service, and I am not claiming to. But it seems that none of the politicians who have to make the decisions have any idea either.
What I want is for the electoral manifestos to include a detailed analysis of the problems, and a long term plan to resolve them. I can then read each party's proposals, apply my common sense and consult those I know who work or have worked in the health service, and decide which party has the best grasp of the situation. And it will be nice to know that the party does actually understand the issues and is vaguely competent. But that is not going to win votes. Not everyone has the time or capability to read through and judge such a study. Slogans win elections rather than detailed policy. So all we get are slogans, and no means of judging the actual competence of the parties. People are forced to vote from a position of ignorance.
The next weakness is that you have to vote for a party platform as a whole. Very rarely do I find a candidate where I agree on every issue. For some issues which I care deeply about, such as the social issues around family structure and morality, all the major parties have roughly the same policy position, which is very different from mine. I don't get a choice, but am in effect forced to vote for policies which I disagree with. There is no way to register "I like these things about you, but dislike these." The politician is going to take my vote as a vindication for his whole manifesto. As such, I don't get the government I want.
An elected politician is necessarily divisive. A proportion of the population will utterly hate him and everything he stands for. A small number will fully support him and think him incapable of doing wrong. The rest of the population will be in the middle: they might be opposed to most of his policies without stretching into outright hatred. Others will give limited support, or just say "Well, at least he is better than the other guy." But you are never going to unite the population behind an elected leader. And, of course, when he makes mistakes -- as he inevitably will, since leading governments is too complex and difficult for anyone to get it right all the time -- and people suffer from those mistakes, then people will lose even more confidence in him. This is problematic because a society needs to unite around something, usually a person, a symbol, a purpose or goal; and they need to be able to trust that everyone else in the society has a similar vision. They will always differ in some respects, but there is this underlying common ground. Otherwise it is not a society at all but a collection of warring tribes. A democracy is naturally and always in conflict with itself. You will have one faction playing off against the other, no hope of unity, but plenty of prospects of the divisions increasing. In the US, there are symbols: the flag, the constitution, "the American dream" to unite people. But these won't do much good when the divisions increase to the point when people dispute what those symbols mean.
And finally, Plato's objections still stand, perhaps to a lesser extent than in a direct democracy, but they are not entirely eliminated. Politicians will throw out easy promises to their voters, things which they think will gain them votes. Many people would be swayed by a short term pleasure and not think of the long term problems it leads to. Living a moral life is ultimately more rewarding than a debased life, and far better for society in the long term. But people are tempted to immorality, which appears more seductive. It is not just promising to allow more laxity will win votes; but to oppose immorality -- to oppose abortion, or support marriages -- will lead to criticism in the press and from the other parties. People might be persuaded by a detailed argument of why such policies are good, but that is not permitted in a political debate (see above). So instead what they hear is that this person is patriarchal, or trying to impose a Bronze Age morality on the people, or hates women, or whatever inaccurate slogan is in vogue. A political party, when presented with a candidate who believes in sound moral values, will think that he will just lose votes, and not select him. And it is true -- he probably will lose votes. He will also gain votes (including mine), but people like me don't tend to get noticed so much. And this leads to a viscous circle, because you need a certain amount of education to be able to defer immediate pleasure for the long term benefit of a stable marriage. Or to understand that there are more important things in life than feeding one's greed, and more happiness to be found in being content with what you need. Without that education, politicians who have sound moral values will be disadvantaged. But without politicians who have sound moral values, good educational practices will be disapproved. The long term effects of the neglect of virtue are disastrous for society, and already starting to show themselves (albeit not yet in the classes from which politicians are drawn). But what politician is going to have the courage to reverse it, if it means adopting policies which will be unpopular with much of their electorate?
What a constitutional monarchy provides
So a democracy has both good points and flaws. Even though I wrote far more about the flaws than the good points, I would agree that the good mitigates to a great extent the bad. And a democracy is one of the few systems of government where that is the case.
A monarchy also has its flaws. The main flaws with an absolute monarchy include: a) It is luck of the draw whether the next guy in line is competent or not; b) It can give a sense of entitlement, as the ruler might actually believe that they have a divine right to rule; c) there is no easy way of removing a bad ruler; d) the ruler does not need to take into account the poorest in the society, and can just waste resources on his own pleasure; and e) It puts too much power in the hands of a single family, and power has the habit of corrupting people.
A constitutional monarchy, however does reduce these weaknesses. A Christian constitutional monarchy even more so. The first weakness is, of course, still present. We were fortunate in the UK that George VI and then Elizabeth II were both very competent. Before that was Edward VIII, who was a playboy and closet Nazi. Fortunately, we were able to get rid of him relatively quickly, and replace him with his far superior brother. It remains to be seen how good a ruler Charles III and then William V will be. However, the British monarchy know that they only have their posts as long as parliament wishes it, which depends on their service. The royal family do a lot of work for the underprivileged in the nation; supporting charities, meeting those in need, speaking up for those who need a voice. They also represent the public face of the country to those overseas. They also know that the moment they stop working for the public, parliament might well act against them. It has happened in the past, with Charles I, James II/VII, and, as mentioned, Edward VIII. This answers the second to fourth points. The fifth point is answered because power is spread, and delegated from the monarchy to parliament and the other officials. Yes, the monarch can take that power back in extreme circumstances, but in practice only if there was a government in place that had clearly shown that it was incapable of fairly governing. The monarch is not absolute, but limited by law and custom, and this removes many of the disadvantages of monarchy.
In a Christian monarchy, of course, the Monarch is not only under the law, but under God. The words of Jesus are forever ringing in their ears:
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The monarch thus understands that they are in place as the steward over the nation for God. They will be judged on the basis of the faithfulness of their stewardship. Equally, they are cultivated in Christian virtue, which in the political sphere implies a respect for the poor and a natural humility. Queen Elizabeth had a firm Christian faith, which infused her whole character. All the virtues that led to her being so well respected flowed from that. It remains to be seen to what extent Charles and William will follow in her footsteps in this regard. Charles does profess the Anglican faith, but he seems to be more liberal and less convicted than his parents, and William perhaps even more so. But time will tell on that. As we move into a post-Christian age (especially within the Church of England), we might expect to see the Monarchy's Christian virtue and duty gradually disperse. That would be a great loss.
So the disadvantages of a monarchy remain in a constitutional monarchy, but to a lesser extent.
But, as well as the disadvantages, a constitutional monarchy also has advantages over a democracy.
Firstly, it provides long term stability. The monarch isn't thinking just until the next election, but to secure the country for the next generation.
Secondly, it disperses power. It creates another institution, alongside the political parties, which has an influence over the country.
Thirdly, as there is no need for the monarchy to be elected, and their needs are well taken care of, and their accounts are in the public sector, they are less vulnerable to bribery and corruption from the wealthier parts of society. The King of England is very wealthy (mostly due to the land owned by the Royal Family, which generates a healthy income for them), but their prestige does not come from their wealth. They have no need to treat Sri Hinduja or James Dyson with any more reverence than Shelia from Basingstoke, because they are not reliant on their money.
Fourthly, the monarchy remains, officially at least, politically neutral. While they have their own views in private, their role is to give a space to all views, whether fashionable or not, without giving preference to one over another. Their role in supporting the whole country means that they cannot forget the wider consequences of a particular action.
A monarch is trained from birth for their role. This does not necessarily mean that they will be good at it, but they will have their advisers, and, as part of their duties, talk to a wide range of people, the politicians but also those impacted by political decisions. Over time they can gain a great deal of experience. It is often stated that the worst person to give power to is one who wants power. A monarch has power thrust upon them, regardless of whether they want the responsibility. A monarch is not guaranteed to be of good character, but they are no worse of in this regard than a politician.
A monarch does not have to advocate for their positions through media-sensitive soundbites, because they don't advocate their positions to the public. The occasions where they do share their thoughts tend to be private meetings, where they can take a deeper and more detailed analysis. A monarch knows that they have no popular mandate. They cannot delude themselves into thinking that their wishes automatically reflect the needs of the people. And that means that they need to do the work to understand what those needs genuinely are. They are not tied to a political platform or party philosophy, but can act with pragmatism as problems in society arise.
A monarch is a source of unity in the country. Because they are politically neutral, and day to day decisions are delegated to the government, they are something which everyone can look to and support, whether labour or conservative. We might disagree on whether Clement Atlee was a disaster or the greatest leader ever, but we can all come together to respect the King. And because he is politically neutral, the King does not need involve himself in the large scale problems of policy, but can focus on the individual needs of the individual people supported through their charities. This gives the King an insight into the mood of the nation which no politician can hope to rival.
A monarch can be influenced by people seeking to sate their base impulses. After all, a monarch would have those same impulses themselves. Whether they are strong enough to control them and see their long term costs is luck of the draw. But where a democracy is bound to eventually pander to degeneracy, with little hope of reverting it, a monarchy might not, if the monarch remains part of the moral minority, and, once fallen, the monarchy has a chance of recovering when the next generation arises.
Now it strikes me that the strengths and weaknesses of monarchy very much compliment those of democracy. The weaknesses of monarchy correspond to the strengths of democracy. The strengths of monarchy, not completely but to a large extent, are in the same areas where the democratic system fails. It might be thought, then, that combining monarchy and democracy in the right way could allow them to largely eliminate the weaknesses of both systems. Of course, the system is not perfect. You could simultaneously find yourself with a bad King and bad government, where both exacerbate the weaknesses of their system. But for that to happen, you need two things to independently go wrong. It offers an extra layer of protection.
One of the key pillars of democracy is the separation of powers, so no one individual can shape the nation to serve his own ends. For this to be effective, the instruments containing those powers need to be independent of each other. That means that how the people in those instruments are selected need to be different. For example, if you have an elected president and elected parliament, the people who come to power are drawn from the same group of people. This is obviously true if they are from the same party, but even if they are from different parties they would still be drawn from the same type of people: those who would seek a career in politics. The background of most long time labour and conservative politicians is similar: get a humanities degree from a leading university, get sucked into the party system, do some work in a political back office, local government, the media, the union management or law, try for election in a few seats where they would never win, but impress enough that they can rise up the party structure enough to be chosen for a safe seat, and then spend the rest of their life in parliament. They are all from reasonably wealthy backgrounds (by "reasonably wealthy" I mean comfortably above median income), and have little experience in the wealth-creating economy. They have all lived a comfortable life, and have little experience of what it means to struggle.
A King, has a different life experience. Obviously not that of the working class (who remain under-represented), but different from the politician. He comes from a system with long experience, which has seen everything, interacted with different people, and which understands and values tradition and ceremony. That different experience gives them a different world-view, (hopefully) different opinions, and it allows them to approach a problem from a different angle. A variety of views is always good when making a political decision.
Of course, you also want the perspective of people who are impacted by the changes caused by legislation. Not the management level (who the politicians talk to anyway), but the technicians, the lower levels: the people who actually do the work and know best what the problems in each industry are. For example, working farmers should be consulted when it comes to agricultural policies; patients and nurses when it comes to health policies. Not the only voice -- there are always conflicting interests -- but they would have the expertise to shoot down a really bad idea. In principle, the revising chamber should be given over to these voices. In that way, we would have a third branch of government selected independently of the other two, further diffusing political power. I am not sure how this should be done -- such people are obviously too busy being productive than to waste their time with roles in politics which are less important but more dangerous if they get a decision wrong. A bad farmer can ruin a single farm. A bad political decision can destroy the entire agricultural sector -- and then what would we eat?
Equally, in a democracy, government needs to be under the rule of law. That law must be founded in something higher than the government. That something could be a constitution -- written or unwritten. But constitutions can be amended by government, and, as human creations, all constitutions are necessarily imperfect. The alternative is to have the law tied up in several different institutions. One of those would be government, but others should be independent of government, such as a monarch. So government and the courts are accountable to the monarch, the monarch is accountable to the government and the courts, and so on. If a government oversteps its bounds (for example, by starting to undermine the freedom of the people, or to institute a dictatorship), then the monarch is there to get rid of them.
So the reason why we have a constitutional monarchy is to compensate for some of the deficiencies of democracy.
The right to rule
But why should we all bow down to someone who is only there by accident of birth? There is nothing that makes King Charles intrinsically superior to the people I meet on the street, or even myself. Why does King Charles have the right to rule?
There are three different senses by which we can understand the phrase "The right to rule." The first is in regards to the constitution of the country. In this case, King Charles clearly has the right to rule, because there is a clearly define line of succession and he was next in line on the death of his mother. In the same way, President Biden has the right to rule because of the constitutional rules of the United States: he was voted in by the electoral college (regardless of whether or not fraud affected the composition of that college), survived all legal challenges, and the vote affirmed by the Senate. This right is clearly based on human convention. If the UK were a republic, or the US choose their governments in different ways, then King Charles or Joe Biden would not have these rights. But that's not the way things are.
But this sense of the term is trivial, and not what most people mean by the expression, so let us move on to the other two senses.
The second sense is does King Charles have an intrinsic right to rule, in the sense that there is something that his bloodline has that the rest of the people in the United Kingdom lack. The answer to this question is clearly "No." But the same can be said for any head of state, no matter how they are appointed. If we decide that a head of state is necessary (and it is, I think, inevitable, if we are to have a government, that somebody will ultimately have to represent that government to the public and to foreign dignitaries), then whoever is appointed to that position will not have an intrinsic right to rule. It will, in this sense, be unfair whoever is appointed to that position, and however they are appointed. So this isn't actually an argument in favour of any other system of government (I do not treat anarchy as a system of government) against monarchy.
The third sense is that someone is granted the right to rule by the consent of the people they rule. This is probably the sense most used by advocates of an elected president. Certainly there can be rights in this sense. For example, when two people draw up a contract, that contract imposes duties on the participants, and also entitles them to certain rights. Does a monarch enjoy the right in this sense? The answer is maybe. Is this an argument against the principle of monarchy? I would say not.
The first issue is that monarchs can have popular support, while democratically elected leaders, even when there are only two parties need not. So, for example, you might have a situation where candidate A gets a little over a third of the vote, candidate B gets a little under a third of the vote, with the remaining third either not voting or voting for minor parties. On the face of it, two thirds of the population eligible to vote did not give their consent for candidate A to rule over them. Indeed, it will be more than this, because a substantial number of people would have voted for candidate A not because they particularly like him, but because they particularly dislike his main rival (that is at least how I tend to approach elections). Does that count as a consent to rule? So if candidate A's right to rule arises from the consent of the people, then why does he have the right to rule over the majority of people who did not consent to him? Between elections a leader might lose their popular support. So they do not then even have the greatest support for any particular party, but still they are in power. So arguing that a democratically elected leader has the right to rule based on the people's consent is problematic because he usually won't have the explicit consent of the majority of people he is ruling over.
Then we have the second problem with this argument as supporting an elected president over a monarchy. A monarch can have the support of the people. Indeed, in the UK, Queen Elizabeth tended to have far greater support than any politician. Of course, this depends in part on the quality of the monarch. But it is easy to see how it might arise in a constitutional monarchy. The monarch is politically neutral, which means that he or she is not responsible for the more divisive political decisions. However, the monarch does engage in charity work, and is an advocate for causes which both sides of the political debate can support. For example, few people on either side of the political divide think that poverty in society is a good thing (or at least they don't say it in public). The divisive thing is how government and society in general should act in the face of poverty. But then you have charities which exist non-politically to provide practical help to the poor in the local community. These would have the good will of most people. What they need is that goodwill to turn into financial support and people to volunteer. The advocacy of the royal family can highlight that work to the local community, and also present their needs at the highest level of government. Whether that advocacy will be effective is another matter, but it will nonetheless garner wide public support -- as long as the royal family remains politically neutral in the choice of charities they support. As such, the royal family is seen as doing good things, while the more divisive political decisions are left to the prime minister. It is then easy to see why the monarch might have greater public support than a politician whose political views are out in the open for everyone to question.
But there is a more fundamental issue with this sense of having the right to rule. Is it something which can be granted by the people in the first place, just by voting in an election or ticking a box in an opinion poll? And to what extent would the right be given? A complete sovereignty, or something more limited? What happens when the ruler decides to exceed those limits? Rights are a somewhat nebulous concept in the first place. But we can and certainly should ask whether people have the right to limit their freedom by placing somebody else over them. Freedom is a natural good (albeit one that can easily be abused). It is thus an evil if that good is taken away by another human being, even if that subtraction is with the consent of the one abused. The individual person can delegate their affairs to another, but must remain in control, with the ability to withdraw that delegation.
And then we should ask whether the role of a head of state or government is to rule. Is not the function of government in society to serve its people, or to ensure that certain goods and services are provided? It could be argued that the head of state or head of government in a rightly ordered society does not need the right to rule because they are not ruling, but merely serving the people, by providing for those needs of society which cannot (efficiently or universally) be supplied through private contracts. Obviously most governments -- and, indeed, most Kings -- have overstepped this mark. Evil is everywhere. But if a society is ordered like this, then a lack of a right to rule is no barrier to being head of state.
It is unaccountable
A second objection to a monarchy is that it is not accountable in the same way that a democratically elected president is. A president is ultimately accountable to his people: they can throw him out at the next election. Getting rid of a monarch is not so easy.
This would be a strong argument against an absolute monarchy. But a constitutional monarchy is accountable to parliament, and to their advisers, and to the general good will of the people. They know that if they mis-step it will lead to an increase in support for republicanism, with parliament having the authority to establish it.
Equally, is a democratic politician really held in check by the election or their opposition or the press? The numerous political scandals, on all sides, would suggest that these types of accountability are not effective in keeping the politicians in check.
We have to ask why we need accountability, and what it is. Being accountable means that you have to report to someone else to justify your actions and attitudes. And this is important, particularly for those in leadership roles, as a check on power. Without it people will keep making the same, usually self-serving, mistakes. But if you have somebody you have to report to, particularly somebody neutral and who you can respect, and with the power to dismiss you if you don't keep up to standard, then it makes it makes it harder for you to abuse your position.
Accountability thus works best when
- It is in a one-to-one mentoring situation. That allows you to have the individual flaws and errors pointed out, and you have to think through a justification for them.
- The person doing the mentoring is neutral. They have nothing at stake in your failure, and the only thing that your success will bring them is the satisfaction of a job well done. They should also be neutral in the sense that they are not committed to your own political ideology or part of your inner circle (because then they will be more likely to share your foibles and less likely to see your mistakes), or to any political ideology directly opposed to you (because they will be more likely to exaggerate your errors, or fail to understand your philosophy). Instead, they should appreciate where you are coming from, and criticise you in the context of those wider beliefs. They should also have a good understanding of the opposing position.
- They must be in a position you respect, i.e you have good reason to listen to and genuinely think over their advice.
- Finally, the audience, particularly for a politician, has to be private. Nobody likes to hang all their dirty laundry out in public. There are things you will say in confidence that would make your work harder if they were known publicly. Of course, any egregious or continued failure in act or character ought to eventually be made public. But a private discussion can pick up on things before they become serious flaws. Generally speaking, by the time a failure of character or action becomes public, the damage is already done.
So what keeps a democratically elected president or prime minister accountable? Firstly, there is the advice of their peers in their own party. This, however, is not effective because they don't have power over the president or prime minister (no respect), and are of the same general ideology. And they are competing against you -- your downfall gives them the chance to rise to power in your place.
Then there is the political opposition. However, these are not neutral (they gain from your failure). They are committed to an opposing ideology. And everything is played out in public.
Then there is the press. But press scrutiny is rarely politically neutral, it is not private, it is usually superficial, and the journalists gain from your failure.
Then, in a negative sense, there is accountability from your financial donors. Or the lobbyists. These people have power over the politician, but do not have the interests of the general population at heart, but only the interests of their own private group.
Finally, there is the electorate. But the problem with this is that an election is a simple yes/no decision. You are not told what it is that you are failing at, which limits your chance to improve. Generally speaking there will be parts of the platform where I think the government is doing a good job, and other parts where I think otherwise. Others will have different opinions to me about what works and what doesn't. A simple vote does not convey that subtlety, and it is quite possible for a politician to draw the wrong conclusion.
Equally, much of the electorate is ill-informed (or you might think they are). For example, the current Prime Minister of the UK, Liz Truss, is an advocate of supply side economics (at least, she was current when I wrote that sentence). To my mind this is a big positive. Finally we have a prime minister and chancellor who see the gains of simplify regulation, reducing the size of the state, and to reallocate economic resources towards the better production of goods and services. The problem is that she only has two years before the next election, and is not a great communicator, and in particular not good at explaining from first principles of the arguments behind her policies. As such, the conversation is controlled by people who do not understand what she is doing or why she is doing it, or, if they do understand, do not reliably represent. The discussion is at a superficial level, and much of the opposition to her policies is thus ill-informed. People thus vote for the status quo of gradual economic stagnation and decay, rather than something which gives the possibility of future growth. She has thus given me a reason for voting Conservative at the next election (rather than the minor party which largely shares my beliefs but has no chance of getting in), which I did not have under Boris Johnson or would not have had under Rishi Sunak, who offer only marginal advantages over the labour party policy. She is still bad on social issues, which gives me pause (as they matter a lot to me). It remains to be seen if she will be effective in delivering her economic reforms, and I am not convinced she she is making them in the right order -- regulatory reform will be a quicker win than tax cuts.
[Note: It is now a week later, as I return to the post, and the Chancellor has been sacked, and the prime minister forced to reverse most of the supply side policies because of pressure from the media and her MPs, and there is even talk of the MPs forcibly removing her from her post. I'll leave that paragraph in as I edit this post, since I still want to make the point in the next paragraph. But it is irritating that that paragraph became obsolete even before I finished writing this post. That's democracy for you.]
[Note: It is now a week later still, and she has now stepped down. Things are just moving too fast for me to keep up.]
In other words, either Truss' critics are uninformed about the economic consequences of supply-side economics, or I am uninformed (as are those with similar views to mine), or both. Either way, there will be people voting on the basis of ignorance. There is no reason to think that on matters such as this the majority view is correct (or that the minority view is correct). Sometimes an action is unpopular, even when it is the right thing to do in terms of the long term prosperity of society. Sometimes the wrong action can be sold through sophistry and public relations. And, of course, there are four or five year periods between elections where this accountability is lacking. Much damage can be done during that time.
So democratic accountability is good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough to prevent a political disaster.
But, in a constitutional monarchy, the democratic government has an additional check, namely the monarch. The meetings between prime minister and King can in principle check all the boxes above (depending on the quality of the King and his advisers). The King has the power to dismiss the prime minister and call an election if things get really bad. Of course this system is imperfect, but it adds an extra layer of accountability into the government, which you do not get in a presidential system, particularly if the president has executive powers.
So the monarch adds an extra layer of accountability to the government. It does not take away governmental accountability.
But what of the monarch being held accountability, either to the people or to the government? As stated, in a constitutional monarchy, there are checks on the power of a monarch, and a really bad monarch can be removed. The royal family equally has to retain a level of general public support. And they have numerous advisers and staff to help them. So there is not no accountability for the monarchy. But it is true that there is less accountability to the people than for an elected president. But the question is whether this matters. The monarch is not responsible for the day-to-day decisions made by the government. In other words, the decisions made by the monarch do not directly affect the people. Yes, they have influence, and can dismiss the government in extreme circumstances, but then, if that decision was wrong, the people can just vote that government or a similar one back in. So there is no need for the monarch to be accountable to the people, any more than there is a need for a university professor or civil servant to be so accountable, because they do not hold the sort of political power which would make such accountability necessary.
It is not egalitarian
Another criticism of a constitutional monarchy is that it is not egalitarian. It imposes a hierarchy by means of birth, and a position in government that only a handful of people have the opportunity to attain.
But so what? Firstly, other systems of government are also not egalitarian. Of course, in principle anyone can run for president. In practice? You need a certain amount of wealth, a good upbringing, have been to the right universities, have networked with the right people, and only then you might have a chance to be chosen as a candidate. For the majority of people, it is not an option.
Secondly, a constitutional monarchy still offers people to become prime minister (with the same caveats as above). An office which holds all the effective political power. So there is still the possibility to gain a position of power.
But, most importantly, why is being egalitarian a necessary component of a just system of government? If you mean by egalitarian that all people are seen as being of the same inherent worth, then that can be true in a monarchy as much as any other system. I respect King Charles, but do not regard him as inherently superior to myself. Like me, he is just a human being. The same goes for President Biden, or anyone else.
Of course, when we use terms such as superior and inferior, we have to ask in what respect are we superior. I am quite convinced that in certain activities I am King Charles' superior. I will be able to do whatever the activity is faster than him, and to a better quality. Or I will require less training to reach a high quality. Equally, I am aware that there are many respects in which I am his inferior: things which he can do far better than I can. But the same would be true when we compare any other individual we might elect as President. So in this meaning of the term, the concept of egalitarianism is incoherent.
Or perhaps he is understood to be superior because he is further up the chain of command than I am. If he has a particular whim, then he can order my execution, and maybe someone else will carry it out, while I have no such legal right against him. But I only care about this sort of power if it is abused. There are plenty of checks in place to ensure that it would not be. King Charles is far to wise to attempt to micromanage the economy, and as such what he says and does has no real impact on my life. In what way, then, do I suffer by being his subject?
But then you might ask what if the King, or one of his successors, goes mad and tries to interfere in the economy or society, and naturally making a huge mess of everything in the process. You mean like almost every elected prime minister or president in history? You don't need to be a monarch to be an incompetent politician; democracies are well able to throw up bad leaders as well. Indeed, because they think they have a mandate to help people (while greatly exaggerating their ability to do so) I am far more concerned about an elected leader or civil servant ruining the economy through micromanagement than I am about King Charles doing so.
But the big problem with this objection is that it assumes that a society ought to be egalitarian. That is a big assumption, and it is far from clear that it is correct. For example, our goal in economic policy ought to be to minimise poverty. If the best means to do that involves creating a disparity of wealth, then it is perfectly fine to create a society with a disparity of wealth, as long as few people as possible are so poor that they struggle to attain the essentials in life. An egalitarian society, where everyone is equally poor, is not an advance over that. Don't forget that wealth, defined as goods and services which people value (which is ultimately what we want -- money is just a means to an end, not an end in itself), is not a zero sum game. Wealth is constantly created and destroyed, and the goal is to create more wealth than is destroyed. For one person to become rich does not necessarily mean that someone else has to become poor.
People are intrinsically different; with different skills, different attitudes, and different ways in which they relate to each other. People should be put into those roles where they have the skills to do well. The ideal society is one where different people with different skills come together for a single purpose, to maximise the chances of that purpose being achieved. But that is a complementarian system, not an egalitarian one. To be egalitarian in the sense that this objection relies on would mean hindering people who are more able in particular roles, and thus making the society less efficient and everyone poorer and worse off.
Would a monarch have the skills to be head of state of a country? I don't see why the lottery of birth would be any worse in this regard than the lottery of a democratic election (where people are not elected because they have the skills to be good at the job, but on their ability at public relations). And a monarch is raised for the role; they are trained for it from birth, and surrounded by people who know what needs doing. That is more than can be said for a president.
For example, in a company the boss tells the worker what to do, and then the worker does it to the best of his ability. Is that unfair? No. It is division of labour. The boss' job is to provide a vision and goal, and supply the workers with the resources they need to achieve that. In theory (admittedly not always in practice) he has that position because he is better at that sort of work. The worker's job is to do the actual work of creating wealth. In theory he has that job because it is what he is good at. To divide the labour in this way is the most efficient use of resources (if the right people have been appointed to each role). Is this structure egalitarian? No. But an egalitarian system, where either nobody supplies the vision, or there is a huge set of competing visions, would just be chaos. Does the hierarchy in giving orders imply that the boss is more important to the company than the worker? No. They are both essential; the company would fail without either role. Should they be paid the same? That depends on the market value for the sort of labour they offer, but there is nothing in the structure which mandates it. (Albeit that human selfishness coupled with too little accountability often leads to unjust wages.)
The important question is not whether a society is egalitarian. It is about whether it is fit for purpose. That means that it looks to the good of all the people in society: respecting their freedom, encouraging virtue, minimising poverty, allowing them to attain their intellectual and religious ends, and so on. The question this is whether a constitutional monarchy is more likely to hinder those ends than a different system of government. And there
It is too expensive
The next objection is that a monarchy is too expensive to maintain. I have never really understood this objection, since there is no clear evidence that a presidential system would necessarily be cheaper. The British monarchy largely pays for itself through the crown estates. The official duties and royal family staff would be paid by the taxpayer, but that is true whether one has an elected presidency or a monarch. The monarch's residencies would need to be maintained anyway, either as presidential offices or historical monuments. There is a certain amount of ceremony surrounding the royal family, but that can be pared down if it is not value for money. If a royal family costs more than a president, then one has to ask whether the extra work they do is worth the cost. If it is, then there isn't a problem. If not, then you can reduce the surplus duties of the family until the cost is reasonable. And, of course, there are costs associated with an elected president that are not present with a monarch. For example, you don't have expensive and disruptive election campaigns.
The prime minister has too many executive powers
One additional problem sometimes touted as a disadvantage to a constitutional monarchy is that the monarch in principle has a great deal of power, but in practice that power is delegated to the prime minister. This gives the British Prime Minister a great deal of powers that are more dispersed in other systems. For example, she has the ability to declare war. The prime minister can in principle decide to declare war on France, and unless King Charles vetoes it and removes her from office, we will be at war with France regardless what anyone else thinks. But this isn't a problem with a constitutional monarchy per se, but only how it is instituted in the United Kingdom. As stated at the start of this post, my goal isn't to defend the British system, which I agree is imperfect, but the idea of the constitutional monarchy. There is no reason why these powers have to be delegated to the prime minister and not (say) parliament as a whole.
The powers which this objection questions are there in any country or system of government. The only question is which people have the authority to wield them, and how dispersed that authority is. So any system of government has the problem that a small set of people can declare war on a whim. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch acts as a figurehead, and the power is delegated by the monarch onto various authorities. In a constitutional republic, the power is delegated by the constitution onto various authorities. There is no reason why one system needs to be worse than the others.
It is unfair on the royal family
One objection that I can't really answer is that a constitutional monarchy is unfair on the royal family. They are born into a role which might not be what they would otherwise choose. They are under constant media scrutiny. But, unlike other celebrities, they cannot voice their opinions, and, indeed, to be a neutral arbiter need to consider and understand all viewpoints. They are under constant pressure, both in terms of the workload, and most importantly to be an example of virtue to the nation. They have to meet up with some of the most odious people in the world (by which I mean foreign dictators, although this can perhaps be interpreted in other ways), and still put a good face on it. Naturally, this is too much for many people, and the royal family has certainly had its problems over the years and today. There are perks to being royalty as well, of course, but it is and can be a tremendous strain on the people involved.
But that is a price to pay for the advantages of the system.
Either power corrupts, or power attracts corrupt people. Either way, it is a generally recognised maxim that concentrating too much political power in one place is disadvantageous for the nation. But what do we mean by "one place"? It could refer to an individual dictator. But it could also refer to a political party, such as a communist or fascist party in a one-party system, or even a collection of established parties in a multi-party democracy. You could, of course, be lucky and get a benevolent dictator, but that doesn't happen very often.
Separation of powers, and dispersal of political power, is thus a good thing. In terms of the general economy, it is better to let the experts make the decisions, and the experts are not people with advanced degrees, on think tanks, in the civil service, or political parties, but the people actually producing and consuming the wealth generated in the economy: the goods and services on which we all depend. But, even in such a free market system, you still need a government, and that government needs to have a separation of powers. It needs to be divided into several independent institutions, each able to stop the others if they try to take away the freedoms from the people, or encourage an attitude of vice.
But each institution of government is made up of people, and those people have to be selected in some way. For the institutions of government to be independent the means of selection should be independent. Of course, there is a chance that each of those means would go wrong at the same time, but it is less likely than a government made of a single mode of selection will go bad. Democratic election is one such means of selection, and should be part of a mix. But then you need to find other means of appointing the other institutions of government, and there are not that many viable options. A monarchy, where you have someone trained from birth for the role, is a good supplement to a democratically elected parliament. Like democracy, monarchy has its strengths and weaknesses, but those strengths and weaknesses are complementary.
Of course, for this situation to work well, you need the monarch to be both humble, virtuous, and themselves subject to a higher authority. This is why an orthodox Christian monarchy (whether Eastern, Roman, or Protestant -- in this regard the differences between the confessions make little difference) is superior to an atheistic one, or one supported by numerous other religions including modernist Christianity.
And that is why Queen Elizabeth was so effective. She was grounded in a firm faith, as was her husband. She extolled the virtues a good Christian. Those served the UK well during her time, and I am sure delayed the country's fall brought about by a dysfunctional political class in thrall to the evil philosophy of critical theory. Her main failing was that she only passed on those values imperfectly to her children and grandchildren.
What the future holds for the UK I don't know. At the moment, it looks very bleak, with the parliamentary conservative party divided, in disarray and mostly fighting for the wrong side, and the labour party, nationalists, liberal democrats, greens and so on an even bigger catastrophe waiting to happen. We still have a long way to go before hitting the bottom. But, if it survives, I have little doubt that the monarchy will be the lifeline we can hold onto as those of us who survive the fall start to rebuild the country.
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